I‘ve drawn this line in the sand before, and after my train ride today with one of my teacher friends, I realized just how inane merit pay is. Many of my favorite teacher colleagues on the Internet love the idea of merit pay, suggesting that this would go a long way towards keeping the “good” teachers in the system. They’re the ones that need the merit pay because it differentiates their work from another teacher’s. Furthermore, that additional salary is proof that there is a distinction between those that work hard in the building and those that don’t.
The latest and greatest proponent for the idea: none other than the man I lauded a few months back, President Barack Obama. Now, I’m fully aware of my audience, and how I’ll instantly be perceived as a hater for not backing the president 100%. I’m no Tavis Smiley, my people. I just have a hard time with Barack telling me that charter schools and merit pay are a large part of the solutions that will serve our nation’s children well. And to that end, I’m absolutely infuriated, my man.
Going back to this friend of mine on the train, we work in various teams in the school. For all intents and purposes, we’re some of the prominent teacher leaders in the building, going from meeting to meeting, traversing the school while teaching classes. We get extra money for these efforts whenever we go work after school. Thus, we’re getting a little bit more than other teachers who may do nothing after-school from per-session money. And yet, despite these efforts, our main preoccupation wasn’t our status as teacher nor our financial standing, but the conditions we work in. The massive amounts of paperwork, the lack of support, the professional development, and most importantly, the work conditions all contribute to the ever-growing complexities of an educational system replete with bureaucracy and turbulence.
All the pay in the world may make it easier to have our bills paid, and may sponsor a few more rounds of Blue Moon on weekends, but will it lead more teachers to want to do better? How will these teachers be judged? Do we have an effective schema where the work produced is judged subjectively? Is there real equity in the system that such a system could occur? Will charter schools with their no-union policies and (to put it nicely) uncanny policies about children make public schools the dumping ground for whoever they get to reject? Will charter school teachers be held to the same standard as NYC public school teachers? Will we finally employ national standards for core subject teachers?
Does it mean my kids don’t have to work part-time or wait for their parents until 11pm to get home? Does it mean their parents will find ways to instill the value of education in their children even when they’ve never actually graduated middle school in some cases? How is Obama going to address the reasons why many of our poor kids can’t compete with people in different districts, regions, or even other countries? For that matter, when will Obama talk about how these countries who supposedly “lead” us really have diminishing returns when we look at them academically? And do ALL their students have the same access to education the way many children have it here, even on the margins?
I have a lot more questions than answers at this point, and frankly, while I kept trying to think of ways that merit pay could work, I kept thinking about how these school buildings figuratively bleed for lack of actual treatment and responses to some of the problems that plague them system and nationwide.
And all we have for said patients is a freakin’ Tic Tac: a policy more ephemeral than institutional, more decorative than substantive. At least its breath smells nice right?
Jose, who finds Obama’s speech so amazing … and not in a good way …